How to do what you love?

So you have found your ideal project, the dream job. The startup you think will change the world. Now what?

On most days if you do your work, you will be fine. At least you won’t get mad because the world is not changing. As humans though, we are not so good at doing the work everyday especially the one with no preset directions. We become complacent rather quickly. We avoid work and yet expect to be successful and happy.

Success is a long shot. Focusing too much on it on daily basis dilutes happiness. And happiness is almost a requirement for long term success. It’s a chicken and egg problem. In the short run concentrate on happiness. The basic promise of working something you enjoy is not that it earns you a lot of money but rather it makes you happy. Despite common perception, we are bad at doing what we don’t like and still be happy about it. Everyone has a different threshold but generally, our minds are not good at it.

Doing what you love is not so romantic though. Waking up every day, even if you have a dream job, and doing work is hard. It pays well, for sure. But will you be jumping off from your bed every day just because you love what you do? I don’t think so. Actually, in ways the stress level increases. When you are working on something, for say, just for money. You are not bothered by things outside your domain of work. But when it’s something you care about, everything is your problem. You feel responsible for fixing things.

It’s like having kids. You can love someone else’s kid as long as they are in good health and playing. When they get sick, it’s not your responsibility. But when you have your own, things are totally different. Even minor flu they might have caught in the class starts to freak you out. Sure, having them pays off but it comes with additional cost.

The art is not to lose sight. Sorry for parental examples but this is how emotional your work actually gets if you start to own it. Don’t loose sight that she is your kid, after all. Always keep the long view in sight otherwise it will be impossible to get out of bed and do those unthankful set of tasks no one seems to care. You need to have trust in the broader mission of what you are doing. If you happened to have lost that trust then that’s a warning sign. It’s time you start asking questions again.

But how would you differentiate? How you know if something is trivial or something serious?

A good hack is to alter your usual thought process. If you are feeling depressed about work, don’t jump to conclusions immediately. Try to get back to work slowly. Ship a couple of things and relax a bit. Only start asking questions when you know that you are not stressed out and generally feeling good about the work.

This is hard because when you are feeling good about the work, you don’t feel like questioning anything. More often than not that’s the right time.

Seth Godin’s “The Dip” is a good short read on this last point.